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Scattered Shots: Frostheim faux interviews Ghostcrawler

Brian Wood

Welcome to Scattered Shots, written by Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the Hunting Party Podcast. Each week, Frostheim uses logic and science mixed with a few mugs of Dwarven Stout to look deep into the hunter class. Got hunter questions? Feel free to email Frostheim.

This is not actually an interview with Ghostcrawler.

I have never spoken with Ghostcrawler, nor have we exchanged emails. In this, we are two lost souls reaching for each other across the vastness of the information superhighway, each seeking that other half to fill the emptiness within us. He by crafting and endlessly refining the perfect class in WoW, as well as nine other support classes to improve the hunter experience. Me by taking apart that creation to revel in the component pieces, to learn how they work and thus better understand him. We are platonic life partners who have yet to meet.

Because of this connection we share, this ephemeral bond, I am able to predict exactly how he'd answer if we did speak. If I happened to sit at a bar next to Ghostcrawler in the not-too-distant future and our eyes met over a glass of stout in a moment of magic, I think we can agree that not only would he consent to an interview, but that everything in the following transcript is exactly as he would say it. Except, possibly, for the words.

Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed Ghostcrawler. I know it's not something you normally do.

My pleasure. You know ... you're really uncommonly good-looking.

Yeah, I get that a lot. So, let's start with the basics. I know you play a lot of classes. Do you play a hunter?

Of course I do! I try to downplay it on the forums -- it's really important that I don't show favoritism there, but I have two level 80 hunters. It's just -- well -- it's the greatest class, and that happened by design after all. I spend a lot of my time trying to sneak in more and more awesome hunter abilities into the game.

Really? Even for, say, BM?

Yeah, yeah, I get a lot of flak from the BM players. Keep in mind that BM was the over-the-top best spec for an entire expansion. All of BC, and then into the start of Wrath.

When you nerfed them into the analog age.

That call came from over my head. I have bosses too, you know. You don't want to know what it would have been like if I wasn't there to tone down the nerf. Heck, I even got some of them undone. But you gotta admit, even nerfed as they are, BM is still frickin' awesome.

You know, I can't really let an interview like this slip without asking about Cataclysm.

No problem. Shoot.

So focus. What's up with that?

It's something that we wanted to do for a long time. It just never really made thematic sense that hunters used mana, a resource mechanic that's inherently synonymous with magic users. I think it makes hunter rotations a lot more interesting, too.

What about the complaint that it basically turns hunters into ranged rogues?

Oh god, every time I hear that I throw up a little in my soul.

Pffft! Sorry -- don't say things like that when I'm drinking!

It's okay, it'll come out. But seriously, we spend a lot of time thinking about class identity. Every class should have a distinct and separate identity as well as signature abilities, and we're always very, very careful about messing with a class' identity. In this case, I really don't think we are.

The rogue identity is a fast-hitting, dual-wielding, melee physical DPS class that uses combo points to build up to big finishing moves. Their signature abilities include stealth, stuns and poisons.

The hunter identity is a ranged physical DPS class -- the only one, by the way -- and a pet class with the strongest and most versatile pets in the game. Their signature abilities include traps, kiting and incredible good-looks.

We are a good-looking bunch of guys.

And not just the guys. The hunter community has Zehera, Shandara, Lassirra -- beauty and brains across the board!

But the point here is that focus is not a part of the rogue class identity, just like mana isn't part of the hunter identity. Those are just the mechanics that control and attempt to put a limit on your attacks. If you really think that changing to focus makes you like a rogue, then you may as well also say that using mana makes you basically a warlock or a mage.

But when we switch to focus, we aren't going to be able to spam nearly as many big shots in a row -- so isn't it effectively a nerf to our rotations?

In a word, no.

Right now if you're BM in the end game, you keep up Serpent Sting and fire Aimed, Steady, Steady, Steady, Steady, Steady. At lower gear there's probably an Arcane Shot in there, as well. But come Cataclysm, you won't have your Aimed Shot and Arcane Shot on cooldowns, so you'll actually use more specials in your rotation.

Now look at MM. You put up Serpent Sting, then fire Chimera, Aimed, Steady, Steady, Steady. In Cataclysm, you won't necessarily always be able to fire Chimera and Aimed back to back, but in that same five-shot time frame, you'll still get Chimera and Aimed Shot in there and still fire at least two Steady Shots. But if you have a good amount of haste, and if you take the talents to help with focus available to your tree, you can again get more good shots in the same time frame than you do now. I mean -- it's better!

I gotta say, it drives me crazy to see people who fixate on one part of the class preview, then ignore several other parts that affect the same mechanic and jump to silly conclusions and scream that the world is ending.

Well for the most part I like to think that the trolls genuinely mean well. They're trying to convey a concern, but they just don't have good communication skills. They talk in terms of absolutes and hyperbole because it's the only way they know how to emphasize something they think is important.

No, I agree with you. But a lot of them are just raging asshats, too. For every two that mean well and just flunked junior high there's another who's simply a poster child for contraception.

No argument there. So I do have to admit that I was a bit miffed to see the focus cost associated with Disengage.

And you're not the only one! To understand this, you have to understand the psychology of game development -- which basically means understanding the psychology of gamers, or people in general.

One of the good things about changing hunters from mana to focus is that we can remove the cooldown from a lot of hunter spells. When we're in the very early stages of testing like we are now, the first thing we want to try is to remove every cooldown that we think we might be able to get away with. We want to really explore the possibilities of the new resource mechanic. Even if we think it probably won't work, we still want to give it a shot. After all, I've been surprised before with the ways players find to take advantage of mechanics, so let's give them that shot.

But also history has taught us to be conservative when testing new things where players can see them. If we're going to have a new ability, it generally behooves us to make it a bit more expensive or a little worse than we think it may need to be. It's a lot easier to make it a bit cheaper or better in the next PTR patch than it is to do the reverse.

The first rule of making changes is that players hate to have anything taken away from them. They hate nerfs, real or perceived. And this isn't specific to gamers; it's just basic behavioral psychology.

A good example to highlight this is a test behavioral researchers did with chimpanzees. The researchers put a lever in the monkey's cage, and whenever he'd --

Wait, monkey or chimpanzee?

What's the difference?

A chimp is not a monkey; it's in the ape family. These things are important to us hunters.

Oh, okay, chimpanzee. And remind me to check on that new monkey hunter pet too.

Anyway, so the chimp has a lever, and when it pulls the lever it gets a piece of lettuce. Chimps like lettuce; it's tasty. So the chimp loves the experiment to death. Pull the lever, get more lettuce, eat the lettuce and pull the lever. Then after a while, the researchers change things up. One time, the chimp pulls the lever and gets a grape. Chimps love grapes; they're way better than lettuce. But then the chimp pulls the lever again and it goes back to getting lettuce. Now the chimp gets pissed off and throws the lettuce at the researchers.

So just a minute ago the chimp was loving the lettuce, and now it's insulted to be given that garbage. The lettuce didn't get any worse or any less tasty, but the chimp's perception of the value of the lettuce changed. MMO players are even more extreme -- in an MMO if the players even hear that we considered giving grapes, they'll suddenly be insulted with the lettuce that they loved until that point. So while we can't avoid every nerf, we really try to avoid as many as we possibly can.

Sounds good. Any last words on focus before we move on?

Yes. Tell your readers that I promise them that they'll still do competitive DPS. They'll still be able to PvP. They'll still be able to kite. If there's a problem at any stage of the beta -- the testing phase -- I'll correct it personally.

Will do! So, a lot of us hunters enjoy extreme soloing and pet tanking -- even pet tanking raids, even ICC bosses. I'm wondering how we'll do at this in Cataclysm. Especially with the PvP resilience change, we won't be able to make our pets crit-immune anymore unless we get some other ability.

Unfortunately the powers that be don't want hunters to be viable tanks. It's fine if you can do some crazy stuff in extreme situations when overgeared, but once it's just as easy to have a hunter tank a boss as an actual tank class, there's a problem. We don't want a non-tank class taking that spot away from a tank.

Well, if you made hunter pets able to tank, then we would be a tank class. I mean, it's not like we have an overabundance of tanks, after all. At least not if the dungeon finder is any indication.

Would you want to pay the hybrid tax on your DPS then?

Oooooh, no. No thank you.

It's interesting though, because back when we first started WoW, we had in mind that hunter pets would fill an off-tank role in dungeons and raids. The pets wouldn't be tanking the boss, but would be tanking boss adds. So back then, the idea was that BM could fill solo and off-tank roles, MM was the main DPS spec and SV was originally envisioned to be a sort of melee hunter "fighting along side your pet" role, capable of ranged or melee. Obviously a lot has changed since then.

It sounds like our pets just aren't going to be as good at tanking things in Cataclysm then?

I wouldn't say that. Right now there's no plans to boost pet crit reduction beyond the -4% they can get now. But I did manage to slip in a few things to help out, which we haven't announced yet. For example, your Mend Pet will be able to crit, which is a huge boost in pet healing for extreme soloing. It'll also make your gear choices for soloing a little more interesting, since that crit rating will affect your pet's survival.

Also, we're going to vastly improve the way pet stats work. In Cataclysm, all of your stats will transfer to your pet, in some ratio. So instead of just having your pet inherit your hit, stamina, AP and armor, your pet will get part of every stat the hunter gets. Most hunters will just care about the fact that their pet now scales with their haste and crit rating from gear, but on the tanking/soloing end, your pet will also be getting some of your dodge and parry rating.

This is a particularly big deal for BM, since one of the problems we saw with BM in Wrath was that pets didn't scale linearly with hunter gear.

Okay, we're already running really long, so I need to wrap this up. But I do have one more crazy question.


Why not, just once, have a "Player Patch" that introduces all the changes the players want. Start a thread on each of the class forums asking people about changes they want to see for their class, then let all the players vote for the changes they want to see most. Then take the top five changes for each class and implement them -- maybe do it on a PTR patch so that you don't break the game if people are really dumb. I'm not sure what would happen, but I think it'd be really, really interesting.

Well, there are two reasons that will never, ever happen. The first is the amount of resources it would take. I don't think most people really understand how complicated certain changes are to implement. Sometimes it will be the most simple-seeming change that has something in the way the code works that makes it ridiculously difficult to code. There's this idea that we can just have a couple guys spend a couple hours or days on something to make a tweak, and it's just not the case.

I know that Blizzard makes tons of money, but they also spend tons of money to keep WoW going, and the cost for something like the Player Patch would be huge.

Sure, but you could just make a special mount -- in fact, let the players vote on the mount, too -- that you sell on the Blizzard store, and proceeds go to fund the Player Patch.

Fair enough, but then we get into reason number two. And this is one of the dirty secrets of game design that we really aren't supposed to talk about:

Our job is not to make the game that you want. Our job is to make the game that you'll play. And history has shown us that those are two very different games.

Well, thank you so much for doing the interview.

My pleasure, really. I ... I could get lost just looking into your eyes.

Me too, buddy. Me too.

Come to Blizzcon. We'll do another interview then.

You want to be a hunter, eh? You start with science, then you add some Dwarven Stout, and round it off some elf bashing. The end result is massive DPS. Scattered Shots is the column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill vs. gear, get started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101, and even solo bosses with some Extreme Soloing

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